Eight chimneys at Victoria’s defunct Hazelwood Power Station have been demolished in a spectacular cloud of dust, causing traffic chaos as commuters pulled over to take a look.
The chimneys, which soared 137 metres above the town of Morwell in the Latrobe Valley, came down just before 12.30pm on Monday.
Dozens of commuters stopped in the emergency lanes of the Princes Freeway to catch a glimpse of the demolition, while many more took to social media to show vantage points across Gippsland.
Hundreds more gathered Morwell to watch from a safe distance.
Thousands waited for more than two hours to watch a live stream, provided by owner Engie, which then took only about a minute before it was all over.
One local resident posted on Twitter: “My first social activity since lockdown, waiting for the fall of the Hazelwood towers with about 100 people in a park. waited for 1 1/2 hours for a 1 minute event.”
The chimneys were built in the 1960s and operated for more than half a century before the brown coal-fuelled power station was shut down in March 2017.
There is about 50 kilograms of asbestos in each chimney and about 12 tonnes of concrete, which will be monitored following the demolition in line with Victorian environment laws.
Engie head of corporate affairs in Australia and New Zealand Ryan Auger said the company had spent almost a year preparing for Monday’s demolition.
“It’s a really big day, and a very exciting day for the community and the rehabilitation itself,” Mr Auger said.
“It’s going to mean different things for different people.
“For some people this event represents change and renewal – for others it’s the end for the era. For the project team, it’s the culmination of an enormous amount of pre-work and preparation.”
Mr Auger said the company had spent almost 12 months preparing for the demolition, which went “perfectly”.
He said the asbestos was in the base of the chimneys, but it was far enough from the detonation site not to become airborne.
“There is absolutely no risk that asbestos will be anywhere other than on the ground, and ultimately remediated on-site and stored in an approved cell,” he said.
About 400 people have been working at the plant to prepare demolition and to rehabilitate the 4000-hectare site.
Proposals include turning its coal mine into a lake.
The site has been a headache for the Latrobe Valley community since 2014, when a bushfire spread to the coal mine and burned for 45 days.
Hazelwood Power Corporation was fined $1.56 million last week in the Supreme Court of Victoria for putting employees and nearby residents at risk by failing to prepare for the fire.